Your spouse has left the marital home…but their mail keeps arriving. What’s in those envelopes? Is it important? Is it secret? Can you open your spouse’s mail during an Illinois divorce?

No. You cannot open someone else’s mail…even if you’re married to them. It is a federal crime to open someone else’s mail.

“Whoever takes any letter, postal card, or package out of any post office or any authorized depository for mail matter, or from any letter or mail carrier, or which has been in any post office or authorized depository, or in the custody of any letter or mail carrier, before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed, with design to obstruct the correspondence, or to pry into the business or secrets of another, or opens, secretes, embezzles, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.” 18 U.S.C. 1702 (emphasis mine)

You can collect your spouse’s mail and let them know you have the mail for pick up at a reasonable time and place. Realistically, your spouse will likely forward the mail immediately after realizing that you are in possession of their mail.

How To See What’s In Your Spouse’s Mail

Despite the admonition of U.S. Federal law that you could spend 5 years in jail for opening up your spouse’s mail, you can see your spouse’s mail…eventually.

The contents of that mail will not be a secret for long. Because you can simply ask for the contents of any envelopes you’ve collected through the discovery process.

In an Illinois divorce “a party may obtain by discovery full disclosure regarding any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action, whether it relates to the claim or defense of the party seeking disclosure or of any other party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents or tangible things, and the identity and location of persons having knowledge of relevant facts.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 201(b)(1)

A notice to produce or a subpoena deuces tecum can require your spouse to tender the mail you collected shortly after you have turned the mail over to them.

Some mail will always remain private if the communication is privileged. Requests for privileged communication can be objected to.

“A party served with the written request shall…serve upon the party so requesting written objections on the ground that the request is improper in whole or in part.” Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 214(c)

Unless the mail was from their lawyer, doctor or therapist…they will have to turn the mail over.

“The purposes of litigation are best served when each party knows as much about the controversy as is reasonably practicable.” Mistler v. Mancini, 111 Ill. App. 3d 228, 231 (Ill. App. Ct. 1982)

Can I Go Into My Spouse’s E-Mail During My Illinois Divorce?

How much mail does anyone even get anymore? More likely, your spouse is communicating via email.

You might know your spouse’s password and be tempted to check your spouse’s email. It is illegal in Illinois to access someone else’s email without their permission.

“A person commits computer tampering when he or she knowingly and without the authorization of a computer’s owner or in excess of the authority granted to him or her:

Accesses or causes to be accessed a computer or any part thereof, a computer network, or a program or data” 720 ILCS 5/17-51(a)(1)

“A person who commits computer tampering as set forth in subdivision (a)(1)…of this Section is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.” 720 ILCS 5/17-51(b)

Class B misdemeanors in Illinois have a sentence of up to 6 months in jail and a $ 1,500 maximum fine.

Additionally, accessing your spouse’s email without permission is a federal crime.

It is a federal crime to “intentionally accesses without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided” or “intentionally exceeds an authorization to access that facility,” and by doing so “obtains, alters, or prevents authorized access to a wire or electronic communication while it is in electronic storage in such system.” 18 U.S.C. § 2701(a)

The punishment depends on what purpose you accessed the email for.

“[I]f the offense is committed for purposes of commercial advantage, malicious destruction or damage, or private commercial gain, or in furtherance of any criminal or tortious act in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or any State…a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or both, in the case of a first offense under this subparagraph” 18 U.S.C. § 2701(b)(1)

A snooping spouse will most likely be found to be just that, a snooping spouse and not some criminal with a malignant purpose.

“[I]n any other case…a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 1 year or both, in the case of a first offense under this paragraph” 18 U.S.C. § 2701(b)(2)

What If My Spouse Is Opening My Mail Or Email?

Forward your mail and change your email password. It is not rocket science.

You could report your spouse to the authorities and they may, possibly, prosecute them for opening mail after they get done with all the real crimes (sarcasm alert). Realistically, how is that going to help your divorce case?

You are better off bringing the issue of opening mail and email directly to your divorce judge by asking that your spouse be enjoined from opening any more mail or attempting to access your email.

An Illinois divorce court can issue an order “other appropriate temporary relief,” 750 ILCS 5/501(a)(3), that would include an injunction against opening mail not addressed to them.

The Outside Of The Envelope Is Actually All The Information You Need

In conclusion, you don’t need to open up your spouse’s mail or email because your Illinois divorce lawyer can request copies of all of that mail. Furthermore, that mail is only relevant as it relates to marital finances. Money referenced in mail will be found in some kind of account somewhere. The institution holding that account will be obvious…from the outside of the envelope (Chase Bank, Northern Trust, etc.)

Should your spouse refuse to turn over the mail they received, you can always subpoena the institutions that sent them the mail. They will then send you a copy of the contents of that mail…and everything else they know about your spouse.

Being a divorce lawyer means knowing a million little things from preserving an evidence objection in open court to knowing whether spouse’s can open each other’s mail. Be sure that your Illinois divorce lawyer knows as much about everything as possible.

If your lawyer says “I’ll look it up” that means that they are missing key data points that may help or hurt your case. After all, you could have done that (in fact, you just did).

To talk with an experienced Illinois divorce attorney, contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm to schedule a free consultation.